Nutrition

Browse 101: What is browse and why do we need it

Allison Headley, Animal Operations’ Supervisor of Horticulture, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! about our Browse Program and how Dallas-area residents can help feed our animals! 

It should come as no surprise that with such big animals to care for comes big appetites! One of ways we care for our animals is through our Browse Program where our community can help feed our elephants and other browse-eating animals (more about that later!). For now, let’s chat about the basics of browse.

What is browse? What is a browser?

In simple terms, there are carnivorous animals who eat meat, and herbivores who eat plants. When it comes to herbivores, there are “grazers” who graze on fields at ground level, and there are “browsers” who browse on various foliage of shrubs and trees. We use the term browse often — it’s defined as, “Plant material for consumption or enrichment that is cut and carried to animals in a collection.”

Why do we need browse?

Browse is a crucial element in some of our animal’s diets. It’s full of nutrition that some herbivores need, like proteins, fats, and amino acids.

Browse is also an enrichment item that promotes natural behaviors, such as foraging. It can be used to expand the usage of a habitat, too. Each morning when our elephant team is prepping the Giants of the Savanna habitat, the keepers will scatter branches around in every crevice to encourage the elephants to seek for food and use the entire habitat space.

Also, by providing our animals with browse, we are lessening their eating impact on the landscapes within our habitats. So the habitats continue to look lush and beautiful, and the animals are still active and work to find their scattered food.

How do we collect browse?

We follow the City of Dallas’ Bulk Trash Schedule to find the majority of our browse. Dallas residents have a designated week out of the month where the City allows them to set out bulky trash items that’ll be picked up and disposed of. Our team visits those designated areas to find piles of fresh browse before they’re hauled away.

We also have a few dedicated tree trimming companies that will alert us when large amounts of safe and approved browse items are available. Plus, the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department contacts us twice a month to gather material they’ve cut on the City’s golf courses.

Don’t forget about us this winter!

We are always looking for fresh browse for our animals — rain or shine, 365 days of the year. And you can help! With cooler temps coming, many of our go-to trees and shrubs will lose their leaves, and our options become more limited. For animals like African elephants and giraffes, they eat more than just the leaves of the trees we provide them — they enjoy eating the twigs and strip the bark off, too. So we’re still in search for leaf-less browse to feed these species.

For our other critters who are strictly leaf-eaters, it can be a little more challenging in the winter. Evergreen trees are hard to come by, and the common live oak is toxic to our animals. So that leaves us with magnolia, photinia, loquat, and bamboo to collect for them. If you have any of those items available this winter, please contact us!

Check out our Browse Program for all the details, including FAQs, a list of approved plant material, and contact information.

Categories: Nutrition | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A: Katie’s calf is here! Now what?

Katie and baby 1 4x6 logoWe’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support and interest in our viral star Katie and her sweet baby girl. It’s hard to put it into words how incredible this entire “Giraffe Birth Live” experience has been for the Dallas Zoo. We’re honored to have partnered with Animal Planet to show you the miracle of life as it unfolded live on your television screens.

While we’re trying to respond to as many of you as possible on social media, we may miss a few of your questions and comments. Here are the answers to the questions we’re receiving most.

Q. This was amazing. Why did you do this? We believe the public benefits from seeing what goes on behind the scenes at a leading, accredited U.S. zoo. We’re extremely proud of our animal and veterinary teams, and the excellent, dedicated care they provide. Showing this birth also allowed us to teach about giraffes, including how threatened they are in Africa. We hope that will convince more people to get involved in conservation efforts with the groups with which we partner to help preserve giraffes in the wild.

Q: How can I help save wild giraffes? Please make a donation to our giraffe conservation partner that’s helping save giraffes in the wild. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation is at the forefront of protecting giraffe (sub)species in Africa. Click HERE to make a donation. Please follow them on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Q: Now that Katie’s baby is here, when can we see her in person? Spring is here, which means rain in Texas! In a perfect world, the baby would go out within a week of birth to the giraffe feeding yard in the Giants of the Savanna habitat. However, the rainy weather is stalling that plan. Keepers have to wait until the habitat is no longer muddy for the baby to safely roam the area (she’s quite the runner already!).

As soon as the rain subsides and the ground is dry, the baby will go out for you to meet. When that time comes, the baby will be out on select days during nice weather. We’ll share those times with you on Facebook, Twitter and on the ZooHoo! blog, but it’s always a safe bet to call before you visit, so you’re not disappointed.

Q: For those who don’t live in Texas, how can we see the baby’s first day in the habitat? Our video/photography team will capture the baby’s first day out as she meets the public. We will definitely share this on social media!

Katie and baby 3 4x6 logoQ: It looks like Katie isn’t letting her baby to nurse enough. What’s happening? This is normal giraffe behavior. The average calf nurse is just 66 seconds, and can often be less than 10 seconds! Giraffes are built to survive in the wild, which means the calves have to get a quick mouthful of milk and move on because of predators. These guys are naturally on constant alert. Compared to cow’s milk, giraffe’s milk has more fat, protein and less lactose. Each squirt of giraffe milk is extremely nutritious for the calf. The calf’s feedings look great to keepers, who are monitoring all activity.

Q: When can Katie get some fresh air? Katie and her calf were scheduled to go outside into the outdoor area that’s not in public view today (Monday), but the rain changed that. (We can’t take a risk of the baby falling in the mud!) You may see Katie pacing in the maternity stall because she wants to go outside, but right now she has to do what’s best for baby. As soon as our keepers feel the outdoor space is safe, they’ll let the two roam in that area.

Q: How is the baby going to be named? Our giraffe keepers are selecting three names. We have a recent policy of naming our animals after their native country — for example, calf Kopano’s name means “united” in Botswana — to further conservation messaging and to show respect for their wild brethren. We will open up the name selection to a public vote later this week on our website.

Q: When will the Animal Planet cameras be taken down? We don’t have a date yet, but it will in all likelihood be this week. Once Katie and the calf head outside more often, there will be less to see!

Q: When will the other giraffes meet the baby? Giraffe Auggie will be the first introduced; he’ll also be the only giraffe to go out into the feeding yard with her and Katie. Auggie is our 14-year-old gentle giant; he’s the most calm, patient and mature giraffe in the herd. The calf will slowly meet the other members of the herd as she grows. Jade, Katie’s good pal, will be the first female to meet the calf, and 4-year-old sister Jamie will probably be the last female to meet the calf, to avoid “jealous big sister syndrome.”

Q: Does father Tebogo recognize his offspring? Tebogo is interested in them, but there’s no way of telling if he knows they’re his children. He enjoys sniffing and licking them through the mesh, though.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Education, Giraffe, Mammals, Media, Nutrition, Social Media, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. PART ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crispy baked bugs, anyone?

Aaron Bussell, our Animal Nutrition Center supervisor, didn’t think he’d be wiped out of food at the State Fair of Texas when he was invited to hold a cooking demo, considering he was baking bugs! But that’s exactly what happened – 150 portions gone in a matter of minutes. On the menu: candy and caramel apples topped with crispy cinnamon mealworms; crunchy ginger super worms; honey cricket taffy; fruit skewers with fresh crickets for dipping in the chocolate fountain; and super worms fried inside a hushpuppy with Texas sweet potatoes. We think his beautiful food presentations made the bugs seem too good to pass up! See for yourself with this slideshow.

Animal Nutrition Center supervisor Aaron Bussell prepares a treat at the State Fair of Texas
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Goatscaping: Eating away a poison ivy nuisance

The guests are gone, the zoo is quiet – now it’s time to get to work. One by one, eight goats make their way into the 19,000-square-foot chimpanzee habitat.

With the chimps safely in their night quarters, the lights are left on for the goats, who’ll work into the morning. Their experimental task: eat all of the poison ivy that’s grown in the chimp and gorilla habitats.

To these nature’s lawnmowers, it’s just another green meal. The plant causes no harm to our primates or the goats, but it makes zookeepers’ jobs increasingly difficult. Preparing the habitats in the morning becomes a game of dodgeball as they try to avoid the toxic plants.

“They’re getting ivy all over their bodies,” said Keith Zdrojewski, mammal curator. “They’re out there wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to trim the grass in 100-degree weather. It’s pretty cumbersome for everyone.”

The goats mow through the poison ivy with ease. “They’re an incredible species that can survive on a diet that other animals would starve on,” said Dr. Jan Raines, one of the Zoo’s veterinarians. “The compound in ivy that gives people allergic reactions is called urushiol. Goats lack a sensitivity to it. Their gastrointestinal tract is amazingly efficient at pulling every last nutrient out of anything they ingest.”

Zookeeper Ashley Orr’s personal goats are eating up our problem, saving us money by not having to hire a company to kill the ivy. And we’re doing it in an eco-friendly fashion. “This way, we’re eliminating chemicals from entering our animal’s habitats, and they’re leaving behind a clean natural fertilizer for the landscape,” Zdrojewski said.

When the sun rises, they’re back in their holding barn, waiting for the zoo to close again.

The goats enter the chimp habitat with owner and zookeeper, Ashley Orr.
The goats enter the chimp habitat with owner and zookeeper, Ashley Orr.
Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey
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Categories: Chimpanzee, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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